U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal attended a news conference Monday to support a bill promoted by anti-prostitution crusader Raymond Bechard — the same man Blumenthal sued as attorney general over allegations of charities fraud in 2009.
Was Blumenthal unaware of the connection? Or, as Bechard suggested, did the senator’s presence signify that the still-pending lawsuit was the result only of sloppy bookkeeping, not fraud?
Blumenthal’s staff was unable to say Monday if the senator, who was attorney general for 20 years before his election to the Senate in 2010, knew about Bechard’s central role in drafting and promoting the anti-prostitution bill.
In 2009, Blumenthal’s suit described Bechard as a fraud, who exploited donors of money to help the exploited. Bechard minimized the suit Monday, calling it the result of questions over bookkeeping by the charity he founded and ran as president. He said it is about to be settled amicably.
“We’re really happy with the outcome,” Bechard said. “Blumenthal has been extraordinarily helpful to the cause. For him to show up today was just great.”
Bechard’s stated cause is fighting the exploitation of women and girls by sex traffickers.
It is the subject of his self-published book, and it was the reason for the existence of a charity he ran, Ahava Kids. Blumenthal accused him of paying at least $67,000 in charitable funds to several companies based at his Old Saybrook home for non-existent services.
The suit also claimed that Bechard said in fundraising appeals that his charity donated to other charitable groups, while no such donations were made. It sought an injunction barring him from fundraising in Connecticut or holding a position with any charity.
On Oct. 17, 2011, a default order was entered against Bechard. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said now that Bechard has essentially lost by default, the office is negotiating a final judgment.
The attorney general’s office did not respond immediately to Bechard’s characterization of the charities troubles as “a matter of bookkeeping.”
On Monday, Bechard was the central figure at a news conference explaining a bill intended to persuade alternative weeklies and other publications to stop running thinly disguised ads for prostitution. With the assistance of former House Speaker James Amann, a lobbyist and promoter trying to turn Bechard’s book into a movie, they prevailed on legislators to file the anti-prostitution bill.
The bill would make publishers and other senior new executives criminally liable if the ads were used to sexually exploit girls.
While it was unclear if Blumenthal was aware of Bechard’s involvement with the legislation or the press conference, a press advisory about the event mentioned him prominently.
One thing is undisputed: Blumenthal invited himself to the news conference in Hartford.
Amann said a Blumenthal aide called him shortly before the event and asked if the senator could make some remarks.
“I told him, ‘Sure,’ ” Amann said.
Alex Armentano, a Blumenthal spokesman, confirmed that the senator asked to attend the event.
“Anyone who says it’s a victimless crime is just plain wrong,” Blumenthal said during the news conference. “It is a scourge that exploits and ruins lives of countless individuals. And we need to do everything possible to stop it.”
As attorney general, Blumenthal was involved in bringing pressure against Craigslist to stop carrying sex ads.
The senator, who had to catch a flight to Washington, left without taking questions. Others still were making presentations as he exited.
Amann, who was aware of the pending lawsuit against Bechard, said he did not bring it to the attention of Blumenthal’s staff, since Bechard’s name was prominently featured in promotional material about the news conference. He said he assumed Blumenthal was aware of the connection.
Blumenthal, who was scheduled to preside over a Senate session Monday night, was not available.